Left out: Some coaches miss out on jobs because their teams are too good

Posted: Thursday, January 08, 2004

Joe Gibbs was hired. Tom Coughlin, too. Dennis Green is on the verge of signing, and Jim Fassel is rumored to be next. Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel and Lovie Smith get interviews and not much else.

At least for the time being. Why?

Just ask Marvin Lewis or John Fox, who were assistants in the Super Bowl in 2001 while teams that might have hired them as head coaches were filling their vacancies early. Fox got the Carolina job a year later; Lewis went to Cincinnati this season. Both have been major successes, justifying the ''hot coordinator'' label that first was put on them three years ago.

The same problem that Lewis and Fox faced now exists for Weis and Crennel, the Patriots' coordinators, and Smith, the Rams' defensive coordinator. Teams looking for head coaches worry that they might have to wait until after the Super Bowl to get one of that trio.

All three have been interviewed the NFL allows teams to talk to assistants on playoff teams during their bye week. But now they have to wait until their teams are eliminated from the playoffs as early as this weekend or as late as three weeks from now.

The Giants started it all by firing Fassel with two games left in the regular season. They interviewed all three of those coordinators and were especially impressed by Crennel and Smith.

But they hired Coughlin, fired a year ago as Jacksonville's coach.

''The fact that he is available now certainly played into it,'' said John Mara, New York's executive vice president. ''It gives us the opportunity to put together a pretty good staff, and we can get a jump on other teams in doing that.''

So on a day when Gibbs shocked the NFL by coming back to the Redskins 11 years after he left, the hottest unrecycled coach seemed to be San Francisco defensive coordinator Jim Mora (no, not that one; his son). One reason: The 49ers missed the playoffs, so Mora is available now for Chicago, Atlanta or someone else.

Buffalo completed its interview process Wednesday by talking to Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey, another assistant from a non-playoff team. There were some reports Fassel might get that job this week, but he said he knew little.

''You'd have to ask them that,'' Fassel told The Associated Press when asked Wednesday about his status with the Bills. ''I think I had a good interview, and right now I'm just sorting things out with my people.''

Green, meanwhile, is close to signing a deal to become the head coach in Arizona, where Fassel had been considered the front-runner.

But the stunner, of course, was Gibbs' return to Washington. He will also get the title of president for a team he coached to three Super Bowl victories. He is the second coach to be elected to the Hall of Fame and then return to the sideline; Paul Brown did it when he took over the fledgling Cincinnati Bengals.

Gibbs has been a successful NASCAR owner since leaving the Redskins and always rebuffed feelers to return.

''They can have the $5 million,'' he told Sports Business Daily last June when asked about Steve Spurrier, who quit after two seasons in Washington. ''It's a tough business. I think 30 years is enough. I kind of look at it and think, 'What else is there left to do?' At the point when I stepped out, there wasn't a lot. I had wanted to get back with my kids, and you can't have your kids with you in football.''

One returning Hall of Famer coach, one less job for a top coordinator. At least this year.

''We had a great group. Any one of those guys could coach in our league now,'' Giants co-owner Wellington Mara said, referring to Weis, Crennel and Smith. ''They will, for sure.''

Probably. Just not in a season when their teams go deep into the playoffs.

They can talk to Lewis and Fox about that.

Dave Goldberg covers football for The Associated Press.

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